SMACS Wins ACS ChemLuminary

Image of SMACS Wins ACS ChemLuminary

The Mississippi State University Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS), an undergraduate student organization, was selected among three finalists to win the ACS ChemLuminary award for "Best National Chemistry Week Event Organized By a Student Group".  Under the umbrella of the ACS, the world's largest scientific organization, the MSU SMACS were recognized for their outstanding volunteerism during the 2018-2019 academic year, particularly their National Chemistry Week (NCW) events that included a dunk tank and grill-out, science demonstrations on the Drill Field, outreach to local schools, and a giant NCW Tailgate Extravaganza that took place before the Mississippi State/Texas A&M football game.  Thousands of people were impacted during these outreach events.

Zoe Fokakis, senior chemistry major and two-time President of SMACS, states,

"We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome to all the hard work we put into making National Chemistry Week a success. Knowing that our efforts are being recognized at a national level has been a dream come true and has inspired this year’s team to work even harder than before."

This is the first time in Mississippi State history that an ACS ChemLuminary has been brought home to Starkville.  Mississippi was chosen over other finalists including Georgia and Orange County, CA local sections during the recent gala.  As the top recognition event for local sections, technical divisions, regional meetings, and international chemical sciences chapters during 2018, the 21st Annual ChemLuminary Awards celebration was held during the ACS Fall 2019 258th National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, CA on August 27, 2019.

"This SMACS crew did such an incredible job," states Eric Van Dornshuld, chemistry professor and faculty advisor to the student group.  "Three years ago the organization was not very active.  It's amazing what can happen when you get the right people who work well together and are highly motivated."

Many of the officers from the 2018 academic year have retained an officer position for 2019 while bringing on board a host of new officers to support the momentum and growth the organization is experiencing.  The upswing began in 2017 under the direction of Allie Hanson, a then junior chemistry major who moved from secretary to president.  At the same time, the Department of Chemistry hired on Dennis Smith as Department Head (affectionately referred to as ChemDawg1).  Smith's unwavering support and enthusiasm for SMACS helped Allie and company pull off the first ever NCW ChemDawg Rockers Tailgate Extravaganza.

Followed by the leadership of Zoe Fokakis, two new faculty co-advisors (Edwin Webster and Whitnee Nettles) along with the support from a host of chemistry faculty, graduate students and the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (CGSA), the MSU SMACS gained national recognition for their department, university, and the Mississippi ACS Local Section.  Three of the SMACS officers were present to receive the prestigious award on the big stage in San Diego, CA.

"It was an incredible moment," said Dornshuld.  "We are all so proud of these young women and we were excited to have them there in person to share the experience.  Their reactions to the win are absolutely genuine, heartfelt, and endearing.  A few people commented that we would have won the 'Most Enthusiastic' award if there was one."

Dennis Smith, professor and head, added,

“Having these young scientists experience the impact and recognition of their hard work first hand was not only a tremendous benefit to them personally and professionally, but the long-term value to the Department is priceless and will pay dividends for years to come.”

The MSU SMACS is planning big things for this year's National Chemistry Week with the theme "Marvelous Metals".  In addition to bringing back some of the favorite events from last year, SMACS was recently approved for an ACS Innovative Project Grant to help fund their newest creation, a set of science-oriented escape rooms.  Open to the public, the escape rooms will close out NCW with puzzles, fun, and prizes. 

In addition, a new hub for all of the MS ACS Local Section SMACS groups is being built from scratch.  An accessible wiki format will act as a unified resource for collaborating, communicating, and sharing ideas for the promotion of science in Mississippi communities.  Any member of the local section can contribute by visiting

"We want to coordinate with the other SMACS groups in our local section," says Dornshuld. "We want to share all of our plans so other groups can execute their own similar events and vice-versa." 

The activities of SMACS also impacts student academic pursuits.

"We recently created a SMACS-funded scholarship for undergraduate chemistry majors that was only possible through the extensive fund-raising efforts of our officers and members," says Dornshuld.  "We hope to make this a premier chemistry scholarship that is a staple in our program that is supported by undergraduates for undergraduates."

Other efforts include a student-lounge renovation spearheaded by the student group that began in the summer and is slated to be completed in September.

"I just want to give a huge thank you to all of those who supported us," states Dornshuld.  "To some, this award was just a pipe dream.  It just goes to show that with hard work, grit, and relentless passion... dreams can indeed come true."

The efforts of SMACS is certainly broad and multi-faceted. 

Nettles states,

"The work and dedication that our officers put into elevating STEM awareness through their outreach efforts into our community, brings great pride not only to the Department of Chemistry, but to their MS ACS Local Section. They showed a strong work ethic throughout the 2018-2019 academic year and they were never discouraged by someone saying, 'You won't be able to accomplish that goal.' Their determination is inspiring, and I look forward to the 2019–2020 academic year."

See our reaction to the ACS ChemLuminary win at
Watch the 2018 NCW Tailgate Video at
Visit the official MSU SMACS webpage at

#nationalchemistryweek  #somebodysmacsomeone  #stateproud

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